PHILADELPHIA -- The Buffalo Sabres enter Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2) 14th in the Eastern Conference, but the signs of improvement have been there recently. And facing a Flyers team that's lost three in a row, including a 3-0 defeat at the Boston Bruins on Saturday, could have the Sabres in the perfect spot to steal two points.
"I'm sure they're going to want to come out strong," Sabres captain Jason Pominville told NHL.com. "Obviously we've heard about how they've been going through a bit of a tough go, had a big meeting [Saturday] and everything. I'm sure they're going to want to have a big start. We're going to have to make sure we can calm that storm right off the bat and be ready to play after that. They're a team we're trying to catch, they're ahead of us right now, and it’s a big game for us."
The Sabres have earned points in five of the eight games since Ron Rolston took over as interim coach (3-3-2), and enter Sunday just two points behind the 11th-place Flyers. However, the Sabres have played to a shootout in four of their previous five games, giving teams ahead of them just enough to keep the Sabres stuck near the bottom of the standings.
"We understand the conference and the importance of every game," Rolston said. "What really makes it crucial is the games we have won have been three-point games. Anytime you get two and another team gets one, it just makes things even tighter than it is or makes it harder for you to get up there."
Helping their cause will be the return of veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold, who has missed the last nine games with an upper-body injury. It also will be the first time Rolston coaches a game with Leopold in it, as he was hurt in practice Feb. 20, the same day Rolston replaced Lindy Ruff.
"It'll be good back there," Rolston said of Leopold. "He's a good puck-mover, and that's what we've been emphasizing form our defense core. He'll be one of those guys that can get us out of our zone. … He can be a player that can really be a difference-maker back there on the blue line."
Leopold replaces Andrej Sekera, who is out with an upper-body injury. Activating Leopold from injured reserve will require a roster move. However, almost the entire roster was on the ice for an optional skate Sunday, so there was no way of seeing exactly how the lineup might look. The only players missing from the skate were forwards Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott, and defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. However, Rolston said all four were healthy and in the lineup for the game Sunday.
Here is what the Sabres' lineup could look like:
Thomas Vanek - Cody Hodgson - Jason Pominville
Marcus Foligno - Kevin Porter - Brian Flynn
Steve Ott - Tyler Ennis - Nathan Gerbe
John Scott - Jochen Hecht - Drew Stafford
Robyn Regehr - Jordan Leopold
Christian Ehrhoff - Tyler Myers
Mike Weber - TJ Brennan
Scratched: Mikhail Grigorenko, Adam Pardy
Suspended: Patrick Kaleta
Injured: Andrej Sekera (upper body), Ville Leino (hip)
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK